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Great Lakes Storms Photo Gallery
Great Lakes Storm Surges
November 12-13, 2003

All Photos and Animations available free of charge. Please credit as indicated.

Animations require the use of aaplay:

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Satellite Photos:

GOES-12 Water Vapor

8am on 11/13.  GOES-12 Image

Click on Image for water vapor animation.

Infrared animation


click for wind animation 11/12click for wind animation 11/13

11/12-11/13 -- Click for Animation -- 11/13-11/14


Click for Wave Animation 11/12Click for Wave Animation 11/13

11/12-11/13 -- Click for Animation -- 11/13-11/14

Water Levels:


We've all heard of seiches, but below you can actually SEE one! The winds that have been blowing since yesterday have caused a SEVEN FOOT seiche on Lake Erie. The first attached file shows the 7' drop in water levels at the Fermi Nuclear Plant on the west end of Lake Erie due to the sustained high winds we've had out of the west. Notice that the drop began yesterday around noon, and ended early this morning. This is one of the larger seiches in recent history. Lake Erie experiences frequent seiches due to its East-West orientation and the fact that storms most frequently come out of the west.

Chart depicting Water Levels at Fermi Plant

Tabular data available from Bird icon indicates link to non-GLERL NOAA site

The second attached file shows the view from the Monroe coastal web cam. Notice all the exposed lake bottom.

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Monroe webcam photo

Where does all the water go? See the third attached file, which shows the 7' rise in Lake Erie water levels at Buffalo, NY at the east end of Lake Erie. A seiche of this magnitude typically lasts several days. Buffalo is also dealing with the waves generated by this storm event. Storm warnings are in effect for the region, with winds to 50 knots, and waves 10 to 15 feet. These waves are ON TOP OF the 7 foot rise in the water level due to the seiche. They are therefore dealing with a total water level increase of 17 - 22 feet!

Chart depicting Water Level at Buffalo

Tabular data available from Bird icon indicates link to non-GLERL NOAA site

The fourth attached file shows the onslaught of the waves from a coastal Buffalo web cam.

Buffalo webcam photo

If you would like to keep track of Great Lakes water levels, you can obtain water level plots like these on the web at:
Bird icon indiates link to a non-GLERL NOAA site

Steve Stewart, District Extension Sea Grant Agent
Michigan Sea Grant Extension

Editor's note: A seiche is an oscillation of water in a basin following a storm surge (immediate rise or fall due to wind or pressure). The graphs above capture only the initial surge. Those below capture more of the seiche.

Map of select water level gauge locations


Duluth Water Level
Point Iroquois Water Level


Green Bay Water Level
Calumet Harbor Water Level


Mackinaw City Water Level
Saginaw Bay Water Level


Fermi Water Level
Buffalo Water Level


Olcott Water Level
Cape Vincent Water LEvel

Tabular data for above charts available from Bird icon indicates link to non-GLERL NOAA site

Lake Erie experienced the most dramatic seiche during this storm (as is typical of fall storms).

Lake Erie WL Plot - 3 stations

11/12-11/13 -- Animated Water Level Maps -- 11/13-11/14


Erie, PA -
Lake Erie on Presque Isle State Park looking NWPresque Isle Bay at the dockPresque Isle Bay looking NWPresque Isle Bay waves breaking over wallSean Rafferty wind blown on Lake ErieWaves on Lake Erie off Presque Isle State Park

Teaching Materials:

The Gales of November are back, and Ohio Sea Grant's education materials are ready! Students in Earth science courses can get involved in scientific detective work using the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 as subject matter. While they learn about ship design, storm tracking, and bathymetric contours, they apply those sciences to investigate hypotheses about why the Fitzgerald sank.

First students look at patterns of historic wrecks and disappearances of planes and ships on the lakes, and identify issues of traffic density and converging shipping lanes that might be related to those wrecks. Then the class divides into groups to investigate whether the design of the Fitzgerald, or the changing path of the November storm, or perhaps uncharted or shallow reefs could help explain the sinking. Data from the original Coast Guard investigation, navigation charts, and shipping records, as well as current safety updates, are used to fit together the complex story. Like real science, the activities end with more questions than answers, a valuable lesson in itself and an invitation to continued study of the systems involved. Finally, a culminating activity has students listen to Gordon Lightfoot's song about the wreck and then write either a last diary entry or last letter home as if they were a sailor on board the vessel.

The special set of activities, originally called "The Great Lakes Triangle" from the book of that name, is part of Great Lakes Shipping [EP-084], a book of middle school activities that combines science, geography, mathematics skills, and economics in studies of water traffic on the lakes. The book is available from Ohio Sea Grant Publications for $6. Teachers can access the booklet as pdf or print an order form from the web [Bird icon indicates link to a non-GLERL NOAA site] following the links to Education publications.

Look over a copy at Bird icon indicates link to a non-GLERL NOAA siteThe National Sea Grant Library

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